Conservatives are right to focus on Dr. King’s message, and to embrace the spirit of tolerance and love embodied in his life’s work. There has been an undeniable shift in attitudes since King and others exhibited great courage in bringing down segregation and Jim Crow. This shift has permeated every aspect of our society–across all regions, age groups, ethnicities, faith, and political parties. Huge progress has been made.
But there is a reason why no conservatives shared the stage with Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama in commemorating the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
It’s not because conservatives haven’t (sometimes belatedly) embraced Dr. King’s message. In fact, I’m proud to say that among most conservatives and Republicans I know, Martin Luther King, Jr. is a moral icon.
It’s about suspicion and lack of trust. Let these images sink in. In the darkest hours of the Civil Rights movement conservatives who embraced limited government and federalism offered no tangible solution to the dilemma of Black Americans. Constitutionalist platitudes about freedom of association are not effective answers to lynch mobs, attack dogs, and firehoses. Instead, impassioned pleas to federalism were understandably confused with the prerogative of states to abuse their citizens. The reticence conservatives to have government inserted into private affairs, then as now, is easily misconstrued as defending a system of injustice and tyranny.
Like it or not, this is a reality we mostly-white conservatives must confront. The stark truth is that–regardless of how many Republicans helped facilitate Civil Rights legislation–most Blacks regard the success of the Civil Rights movement as a product of liberalism’s willingness to glide over Constitutional niceties to directly right a wrong.
There is no doubt that Democrats and leftists (and the media, Hollywood, academics…but I repeat myself) have capitalized on this impression, and have demagogued it to innumerable electoral victories over the past 50 years. They’ve dug us a deep, deep hole with the Black community that we’ve only been too willing to help dig by our collectively meek acceptance of their mischaracterizations. (An example: Bill Clinton saying today that Republicans want to make it harder for minorities to vote than it is for someone to buy an assault weapon).
So what do we do? We must fight back.
We must recognize the maxim that an unchallenged untruth spoken often enough soon becomes accepted as truth, and that our acquiescence in the untruth that conservatives are racists will only solidify Blacks’ and other minorities’ hostility to us.
We must recognize that while the Democrats take for granted that Blacks will vote for them, so do we.
We must recognize that our language of liberty can be melded with an imagery of hate and hostility by unsavory Black leaders, as when Jesse Jackson says the Tea Party is the new Confederacy.
Then we must take our message to the Black community. When we talk about “liberty” and “rights” we need to speak to protecting the weak, the poor, and those most vulnerable to predation by both government and the private sector. When we talk about “freedom” we must connect with a community that can still remember what it’s like to literally be under the jackboot of unchained government. When we talk about the Second Amendment we’ve got to take off the tricorner hat and instead talk about Black moms and dads defending their homes and their families. We must not falter in our insistence that liberalism is destructive to the Black family and poisonous to the entire community.Do good works when you can, as Ken Cuccinelli did in working tirelessly to help release the innocent Thomas Haynesworth after 27 years of wrongful imprisonment.
Above all, we need to bring our message directly to the Black community, one person and one neighborhood at a time. Success isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a long time, and a lot of hard work and adversity. The Republican Party’s organized efforts are a good start, but the success of this effort depends on us all as individuals. Never let them get away with calling you a racist, and never let yourself forget that–right or wrong–we’ve got an uphill battle to engage and integrate the Black community into the community of conservatives.
In time, and through patient fidelity to Dr. King’s immortal words, it is conservatives who will eventually help fully realize the dream that Blacks won’t be judged by the color of their skin–forgotten and taken for granted by a party who cares only about their allegiance and not about their true freedom and prosperity–but instead are regarded for the content of their character as free individuals in the greatest home freedom has ever known.